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3.8 out of 5 stars26
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on 31 December 2012
I liked the book but as a historian I could question this thesis but Ehrman makes his point well on this topic. There are several books in print that would challenge his point of view but overall it makes a good read and makes one think. I recommend this book to those who are interested in this area of study.
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on 19 April 2016
what we know about Jesus without the Holy Spirit
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on 3 March 2016
nice to know the arguments against JESUS
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on 27 July 2015
Far from convincingly demonstrating the historical reality of Jesus Christ, as the author clearly thinks, this shoddy, sloppy book makes it very clear that there are no good arguments for believing it. The entire book is filled with the pomposity and egotism of the author. Yes, we know you're a distinguished professor Dr. Erhman! But what are your arguments?
Let me give just one example of the absurd and weak arguments parlayed in the book. Ehrman tries to count out the number of so-called "independent" sources for Jesus's existence. Not content with counting Mark (a questionable witness) he then includes hypothetical sources for Mark, and contemporary oral traditions. He counts Matthew and Luke, Q, M, L, even the Gospel of Thomas. The count mounts up impressively. Clearly, Ehrman loves big numbers, hoping for a really big number to bash the Mythicists with.
The obvious problem with this count is that it is utterly spurious. Aside from the questionable nature of the sources themselves, they are certainly not independent. And so what if they all did claim knowledge of a real Jesus? Most of them are biased or fictional or riddled with inconsistencies internal and external. Dubious sources do not magically transform into proof no matter many there are.
Ignore this trite, dishonest, and bad book.
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on 23 April 2016
Excellent book
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on 6 October 2012
(Since posting this review I've come across Richard Carrier's well-informed blog at freethoughtblogs.com / carrier / archives / 1026 /, in which he argues that the book is "filled with factual errors, logical fallacies, and badly worded arguments" - so not quite five stars! I've changed my opinion but my original review, which should be read bearing in mind the criticisms of the far more qualified Dr Carrier.)

The religious are so fond of questions that it often seems they would rather leave them unanswered. The question in the title of this tremendous book, however, is not one of those imponderables, and any self-respecting Christian would reply on page one with a resounding, Yes! Bart Ehrman is no longer a Christian, and so it takes him until page two to confirm what he thinks everyone already knows: "Of course Jesus existed." Thankfully, Ehrman does not stop there. He goes on to explain why most historians who study the ancient world accept the historicity of Jesus; he explores and convincingly refutes the mythicist position, which doubts Jesus's existence; finally, he moves on to the question of who Jesus really was. The first part of Ehrman's conclusion, that Jesus certainly existed, will be scant compensation for the Christian confronted with the second part, which is that Jesus "simply was not the person that most modern believers today think he was."

Part I of the book lays out the evidence for the historical Jesus, Part II critically examines the mythicists' claims, and Part III asks: Who was the historical Jesus? This final question takes us directly to the historical method, and the "criteria for detecting historically authentic tradition, even within such problematic sources as those we have that discuss the life of the historical Jesus." Don't expect absolute certainty, but "some things are more certain than others." Ehrman's goal in Part III is to explain why the majority of scholars "have concluded that the Jesus who existed is not the Jesus of the stained-glass window or the second-grade Sunday school class", but "is best understood as a Jewish apocalyptic preacher who anticipated that God was soon to intervene in history to overthrow the powers of evil now controlling this world in order to bring in a new order, a new kingdom here on earth, the kingdom of God."

Having enjoyed all of Ehrman's books I've read (including Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, which is relevant to many of the arguments here), I was looking forward to this one, and also a little uncomfortable. Although never a fully signed up doubter, the idea that Jesus may not have existed held a certain appeal. As Ehrman points out, however, whether or not Jesus existed "is completely irrelevant to the question of whether God exists". Why some atheists should "be so invested in showing that Jesus did not exist" is interesting "as part of a wider skepticism that has infiltrated parts of the thinking world" but is a separate issue from the main concern of the historian, which is to "establish what probably happened in the past".

We discover "what probably happened" by a disinterested examination of the evidence and by rational argument, and by avoiding wishful or fallacious thinking. Ehrman is very good at describing in lay terms the problems the Gospels pose for scholars ("the fact we do not have the original texts, that we do not know their actual authors, that they are full of discrepancies, that they contain nonhistorical, legendary materials"). The census, for example, that is supposed to have occurred around the time of the birth of Jesus "almost certainly didn't happen" and as for the stories of miracle healings and so on, such legendary material would be unhistorical during any period. Ehrman is adamant that these deficiencies "are not all that significant for the particular question we are posing, whether or not Jesus existed." His key point is that "the shaping of a story is not the same thing as the inventing of a story." (For more on how the Gospels were shaped, see Gospel Fictions.)

To qualify as history, one test a story must pass is the criterion of dissimilarity. In Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them), Ehrman explains that any tradition of Jesus "that is dissimilar to what the early Christians would have likely wanted to say about him is more likely authentic." For example, who would make up a story that he came from Nazareth, "a little one-horse town"? Another test is whether or not the tradition is multiply attested (corroboration without collaboration). Taken together, these are powerful historical tools, and with them scholars conclude that Jesus probably had brothers, one of whom was named James, and that Jesus was crucified. Indeed, the crucifixion of Jesus "is the core of Paul's message" and Paul could scarcely have thought Jesus died if he hadn't lived.

The idea that Jesus did not exist is a modern notion, made up in the eighteenth century. It's probably still got legs for a few diehard mythicists, but Bart Ehrman believes that better arguments will win out. Radical sceptics wedded to the idea of Jesus's non-existence, however, are far outnumbered by Christians whose whole lives are invested in going way beyond what history tells us about Jesus. Their beliefs are largely grounded in faith, and are therefore much less amenable to revision in light of evidence and argument (see, for example, Victor Stenger's God and the Folly of Faith). Most such true believers will not be impressed by the scholarly consensus, or by this book. The message that Jesus really existed is hardly news to them, and Ehrman's conclusion that Jesus wasn't the person most Christians today believe in is, at the very least, an uncomfortable one. The challenge facing Christians is to explain why their faith is no longer supported by scholarship, and why their church prefers to keep them in the dark.
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on 16 November 2014
Excellent book. Ehrman disposes of the doubters case with ease and a completely rational approach. I recommend the book, as a picture of Jesus emerges which is completely at variance with the accepted one, and it is a picture which stands up to logic.
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on 20 September 2015
I was a great fan of Bart Ehrman until reading this book. For anybody who is well-read in this field, the arguments presented here are so weak, repetetive, unoriginal and unscholarly that it is difficult to believe he is the same author of such marvellous works as How Jesus Became God. Having read this book, I am more inclined to give credit to mythycists' arguments, which are rejected here without due consideration or credit. The book begins with sheer pomposity along the lines of 'these mythycist people are not even professors of Christianity and do not even know ancient Greek". The fact that most professors of Christianity are died-in-the-wool authodox Christians who have studied Christian theology means they are likely to reject any non-authodox views, as such people have done since the inception of Christianity. However, it is the sheer hysteria of the book and the constant repetition of late 1st and 2nd century references to Jesus as conclusive evidence that rankles. If this book had been written by a bishop, I would have expected something along these lines. This book adds nothing at all to Historical Jesus reserach or understanding.
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on 26 June 2015
Excellent book, easy to read and presenting compelling evidence without doctrinal or religious bias. Recommended.
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on 20 March 2012
From what I knew of the author and having recently read The Greatest Lie Ever Told, I had expected something that would add to this knowledge. Immediately Ehrman disappointed, where Uffington had delighted: Ehrman tells us that experts are experts because of their years of study and because they agree with one another. So if all the 'experts' agree that Jesus existed, he does. There is no list of 'experts' who agree with one another that Jesus didn't exist at all! Spoiled by Uffington, I suppose I expected logical argument: it wasn't there.

Ehrman's weak scholarship peaks around page 221. He can do no better than come up with an idea that the pagan mystery religions were about fertility deities. At least that explained his earlier obsession with 'mythicists'. What really irritated was the fact that he missed out the philosophy that underpinned the Mystery Religions and there was no mention of their spirituality at all. Though I wasn't surprised if he saw Jesus as either 'real' or 'myth' and never as a 'spiritual concept'. Mind you, if you are familiar with Christianity, you may not realise that spirituality was supposed to be part of a religious system and that is was a crucial component of the Mystery Religions.

I found it hard to believe that Ehrman had not got a clue about how Jesus fitted into the Dying/Resurrecting-Godman local heroes of the Mystery Religions, common from the time of Pythagoras until the 4th century CE (a period of almost a thousand years). If I have read Philo of Alexandria's works, surely Ehrman had! He fails to look at the civilisation at the time, at the Egyptian history of the Old Testament; he thus has no understanding of what Jesus was supposed to be about. Ehrman may know about the religious figure of Jesus within exoteric Christianity, but he shows no understanding of the religious history, or the esoteric Christianity of the time. I found the book high in opinion but low in logic and low in fact.
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